Prisoners in Iraq (October 15)
Matt Yglesias notes that Iceland's economy is still vulnerable after the financial system disasters of the past few weeks. As he puts it, in spite of coordinated action, "Iceland is still spiraling downhill as its currency has become worthless . . . which risks destroying the entire economy of a small country that heavily depends on imports."
At Contentions, Max Boot has done some reporting from his recent trip to Iraq. He cites a rarely discussed aspect of America's recent successes: the huge improvements made in detainee operations inside Iraq. Boot explains, "With violence levels falling by 80% from their peaks and with doubts growing about future legal authority to hold Iraqis, the U.S. high command has been undertaking a careful program of detainee releases." It's been working. So far recidivism rates have been exceedingly low (less than one percent). Boot credits both the Anbar Awakening and the work of Major General Douglas Stone, who commands the unit in charge of detainee operations. This task force has focused on not just warehousing prisoners, but also rehabilitating them.
Losing the Kurds (October 14)
Michael Rubin, writing in The Corner, notes that reformers were kicked out of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party. The PUK, led by Jalal Talabani, has been accused of extensive corruption and nepotism. While Iraqi Kurdistan may have once been the most promising region of Iraq, it now looks like, in the words of Rubin, that hope has "apparently been mortgaged for the sake of the ruling families' material comforts."
At Contentions, Abe Greenwald considers Vali Nasr's suggestion that we should reach out to Iran for help with Russia. Nasr thinks that since Iran is important for Russian interests-in particular because a Europe without Iranian natural gas is much more in need of Russia's gas-we can exploit the benefits that Iran can provide in place of Russia in Europe. But Greenwald throws cold water on the suggestion, for two reasons. First, he thinks that reaching out "further emboldens Iran and makes the case for their legitimacy as a world power." And second, he thinks that in the past, asking Iran for help, or working with Iran, has done nothing but give us "headaches." For instance, "for all our engagement with Tehran about Afghanistan, Iran still protected Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders. For all our engagement with Iran about Iraq, it was the punishment inflicted on Iranian backed militias by American and Iraqi forces that produced a change in behavior."
Voting on Terror (October 10)
Matt Yglesias takes note of a new study that asks whether voters are sensitive to terrorism, using evidence from the Israeli electorate. The article finds that "the occurrence of a terror attack in a given locality within three months of the elections causes an increase of 1.35 percentage points on that locality's support for the right bloc of political parties out of the two blocs vote." Yglesias comments that this creates a disturbing-and discouraging-pattern: "Terrorist attacks lead to right-wing political policies that lead to repressive policies that lead to more terrorist attacks."
At Contentions, Shmuel Rosner has been writing about Israeli Prime Minister Olmert's meetings with Russian President Medvedev. While at first it looked like nothing came of the meetings, there are now hints that Russia will not be selling Iran and Syria more advanced weaponry, which of course would be relatively positive news for Israel. But Rosner doesn't think that this revelation "changes the strategic picture" because Russia may be dissembling, and the bigger issue is "whether a Russian scientist helped Iran conduct complex experiments on how to detonate a nuclear weapon."
The Obama Doctrine (October 9)
At Contentions, Peter Wehner comments on Barack Obama's foreign-policy proposals in Tuesday's debate. Detailing the "Obama doctrine," Wehner notes that Obama claimed any foreign policy must consider moral issues as well as ones of national security. Obama used Darfur as an example of such a moral issue that necessitated an American response, but within the framework of the "international community." Perhaps, grants Wehner, but genocide is still taking place in Darfur today-demonstrating the futility of placing hope in international institutions without American leadership. Lastly, he argues the "Obama doctrine" isn't very consistent-wouldn't the same principled foreign policy have reached a different conclusion on a tyrannical Iraq?
League of Democracies? (October 7)
Matt Yglesias takes note of an article from over the summer by the Carnegie Endowment's Thomas Carothers that argues that the "League of Democracies" idea is, in Yglesias' words, "deeply misguided." He cites three key points from Carothers: it is not a new idea but rather quite similar to the "made-to-order multilateralism" of the Bush years; it doesn't really pique much interest in the rest of the world's democracies; and that it will not necessarily be supportive of U.S. policy.
But Max Boot is slightly more gung-ho about one holdover from the Bush administration: not leaving Iraq prematurely. He has been in Iraq, and reports, "along with tales of success we have also heard repeated cautions about how fragile and easily reversible the gains of the past 18 months remain." Boot cites a conversation with an Iraqi Colonel who emphasizes the essential role of U.S. troops in sustaining the recent gains: "It will be a big mistake if your soldiers leave Iraq. We will be like Lebanon. American troops should be here a long time."
Middle East Progress (October 6)
Over the weekend, Instapundit received good news from an email correspondent who also happens to be a soldier in Iraq. He writes in the email that "now things are much less...dramatic. I suppose that is a story in and of itself. No battles to tell of, no close calls with enemy fire, nada."
At Contentions, David Hazony is also encouraged by good news: Abbas's government has made substantial progress in keeping the peace in Jenin. As Hazony explains the implications, "This is the first time that Abbas has shown himself to be seriously committed to genuine stability in a way that can result in a political entity-even a state-that could live in peace with Israel." Granted, he thinks that Abbas is making this progress because his regime is quite vulnerable to a Hamas overthrow in the West Bank-he needs Israel, and the rest of the major powers, to survive.
Tunnels in Egypt (October 3)
David Hazony, writing at Contentions, notices a relatively unique technological achievement. It turns out that the United States Army Corps of Engineers has been helping the Egyptian army to "uncover and destroy the hundreds of tunnels through which Hamas has been smuggling weapons, money, fighters, and anything else it needs."
On the other side of the blogosphere, Matt Yglesias is thinking about China. Specifically, that it's "pretty uncontroversial to say that the only country one could really imagine becoming a serious military competitor to the United States on any kind of foreseeable time horizon would be China." As a result, the best strategy would be one that actively tries to avoid military competition, and instead focuses on building a "fundamentally cooperative relationship."
Tough Times (October 2)
Shmuel Rosner, at Contentions, is frustrated by the way America is dealing with the Iran nuclear program. Though the House has passed a bill to tighten sanctions against Iran, it seems that the House's Democratic leadership has "decided to shelve a much stronger rhetorical measure urging the administration to establish a naval blockade of Iran." Rosner thinks that this indicates the "American appetite for confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program is very low." That said, the problem with even strong diplomacy backed by harsher sanctions, which looks like the basic policy outline of both presidential candidates, is that "it is not working, and there's hardly a chance it ever will."
Foreign-policy problems extend to Syria. Scott Johnson at Powerline writes, "Syria continues to demonstrate the incoherence of Bush administration foreign policy. Stephen Hayes reports that two days after President Bush criticized Syria as a state sponsor of terror in his speech at the United Nations, Secretary Rice met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem in New York.
And similar issues extend to Afghanistan. Matt Yglesias wonders what we are doing there. When we were close to victory in 2002, the shift of resources to Iraq "was a terrible error." But it cannot be fixed simply by putting the resources back in: "The situation has changed, windows of opportunity open and close, and our mission has gotten very murky.... we need to think, instead, more concretely about what it is we're hoping to achieve in Afghanistan." In short, do we need to create an effective, even democratic, state in order to prevent the country from becoming a terrorist haven?
Can Pakistan Fail? (September 30)
Matt Yglesias notes an interesting analogy made by blogger Brandon Friedman: Pakistan is the AIG of international affairs. Yglesias is distressed "that John McCain thinks Pakistan was a failed state in 1999 that was rescued by Musharraf's coup."